The hunt for the Incognito Bandit
He pulled socks over his shoes to obscure his footprints, and covered himself head-to-toe in black — a disguise that earned him an FBI nickname fit for a supervillain: The Incognito Bandit.
For two years, the bandit meticulously selected and staked out his targets, allegedly robbing 16 banks since the start of 2015 and getting away each time.
But when he wasn’t incognito, the Brighton man who was allegedly behind the mask was largely incompetent, records suggest. When he was found lurking outside a Concord bank a month ago, police towed his alleged getaway car. Why? He’d failed to renew his insurance.
Apprehending Albert Taderera, 36, was the result of both sophisticated police work and the suspect’s own bumbling, court records show. And it all came together in the nick of time: Taderera was arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., last month, the same day investigators planned to search his car for evidence, as he attempted to board a flight to South Africa.
For now, Taderera is charged only with the Oct. 7, 2016, robbery of a TD Bank branch in Wayland, when he allegedly brandished a semiautomatic handgun and made off with about $8,000, warning tellers that he would hurt them if he had to. Court documents show he’s a suspect in 15 other robberies.
The string of robberies attributed to the Incognito Bandit paused only when Taderera, a citizen of Zimbabwe, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year, according to court filings in his divorce and child custody case. After Taderera was released, the robberies resumed.
Taderera is now a lawful permanent resident, according to a spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case. A lawyer who once represented him in a 2011 domestic abuse case in Framingham said he had been in the United States on a student visa at that time.
An ICE spokesman declined to explain why Taderera was detained in early 2016, or how he came to be released a few months later — only to allegedly don his disguise several more times.
Jamiel Allen, a federal public defender representing Taderera, declined to respond to the allegations against Taderera. At a hearing in federal court in Boston on Friday, Taderera was ordered held without bail; another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Many of the details of Taderera’s life remain masked, but the Incognito Bandit’s M.O. was well known, court documents allege. The FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force used information from several robberies to develop a list of towns and banks that fit the profile: bank branches near wooded areas with good highway access.
Two banks — a TD Bank and a Citizens Bank next door to each other on Main Street in Concord — were among those that the task force asked local police to monitor, armed with a description of the bandit and his vehicle, a black BMW sedan.
On March 16, police spotted a BMW parked at the banks with someone matching the bandit’s description — a slender black man, about 6 feet tall — at the wheel. When the police pulled into the parking lot, the BMW pulled out.
When police checked the license plate number, the registration came back revoked, according to court records. They towed the car and later transferred it to an FBI impound lot.
On March 22, Taderera allegedly called the tow company looking for his car, and was told it was in police custody — his first indication that he was suspected of something more than unpaid bills. The next day, in an apparent attempt to flee the country, he booked a flight to Egypt, then rebooked to South Africa.
But by then, court records show, the FBI had already interviewed his ex-wife, who had identified him from surveillance photos. Taderera was arrested before he could board his flight.
Taderera was twice married and divorced in Massachusetts, court records show, and he pleaded guilty to a 2011 assault of his second wife — the one who identified him to the FBI. The couple has two children, though a lawyer representing Taderera’s ex-wife said Taderera had not seen them since 2015.
The 2011 assault appears to have started a downward spiral that soon set Taderera adrift.
“I am homeless in Massachusetts and don’t have any income,” Taderera wrote in a 2012 affidavit asking the judge to modify his probation. “I have been couch-surfing with friends for the last two weeks.”
The bank robbery charges came as a surprise to the lawyer who represented him in the domestic violence case. She remembered Taderera as a smart, polite, well-dressed, and well-spoken man from a successful family who worked with computers.
“He was a client I really liked,” said Donna Paruti, who also defended Taderera — successfully — when he was charged with breaking into his ex-wife’s house and car a month after the domestic violence incident. She said Taderera was charming and particularly popular with women.
In divorce filings, he admitted to several infidelities. And while he was in immigration custody last year, a Stoughton woman who called herself his fiancee posted an online petition pleading for his release.
“Albert is employed by a management company as a technical engineer,” the woman wrote. “Albert is a man of great character, doting, loving, and nurturing who loves and gives his all to any human being he encounters,” she wrote, adding that they were to be married in August. The petition garnered 134 signatures, including several attesting to Taderera’s good character.
Reached by phone last week, the woman said she has no involvement with Taderera and abruptly ended the call.
Flanked by US Marshals in court Friday, Taderera smiled at a different woman who had come to court to support him. He was not allowed to speak with her, and she declined to comment after the hearing.
Paruti said Taderera had been prone to “little mistakes” — forgetting to renew his license, for example. A mask and a gun? That didn’t sound like Taderera. But getting his car towed over an insurance bill?
“Now that reminded me of something he might do,” Paruti said.